FOUNDATIONAL RESEARCH PHASE
As I considered the daunting scale of the research we had to undertake into India's vast regional food and drink culture, the advantage of working in an ethnographic research orientated design studio of passionate Indian foodies became apparent!
Armed with over twelve years of field experience across the global south in sectors as diverse as public sanitation in rural India and commercial customer experience refinement, my colleagues were very engaged with the diversity and innovation within their country.
Many on the team spoke regional languages beyond Hindi, meaning we were able to keep our budget lean by avoiding hiring local translators. We split the team up into Hindi speaking (covering all of India, but particularly the north and west), Bengali speaking (covering the north and east) and Tamil speaking (covering the south).
We spoke with experts (chefs and drinks specialists) from Quicksand's extended network to reinforce our knowledge of particularly strong food cultures. From this approximate mapping, we chose two locations per team - one higher tier city, and a lower tier city - from each accessible region of the country.
My team was given two locations Madurai (Tamil Nadu), a temple city on an ancient trade junction, and Kochi (Kerala), an ancient fishing port similarly renowned for its food heritage. Another group went to Calcutta (Bengal), another went to Varanasi (Utter Pradesh) and Ludhiana (Punjab).
We used a number of ethnographic research activities ranging from: in-depth interviews, guerilla interviews, auto-ethnography, artifact collection and multimedia documentation.
We spent a week in the field observing and documenting the cultural traditions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, focusing on various idiosyncratic food and drink customs. We sought out infamous local establishments, successful chains, beloved street food shacks, built on the knowledge of local culinary experts and spoke to a large cross-section of local people.
When all three teams returned back to our Delhi studio the following week, we gave ourselves a week to synthesize all of our respective data together. From our collective knowledge we mapped all the various possible ingredients and styles - essentially creating a national taxonomy of flavour components and tastes.
From this taxonomy and our insights, we identified the most likely options for a successful pan-Indian flavour. We experimented with flavour combinations by prototyping various new drinks and tested them on colleagues and experts.
Eventually, we agreed on a deck of ten possible flavour profiles which encapsulated our insights and equivalent opportunities. We presented our findings in to the client, who then presented our findings to the internal competition judges for voting.
We received a very positive response from our synthesized research, and many of our identified taste components had already been prototyped by the client's innovation lab. With a winning opportunity and taste profile identified, we began graphic design work on some branding options which spoke to the desired demographic.